Venice 2018

Sex and Violence on the Lido

Aisling Franciosi in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2018)

Today has seen the premiere of the only film competing at the seventy-fifth Venice Film Festival directed by a woman. Adding insult to injury, The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her 2014 sleeper hit, The Babadook, was met at last night’s preview screening with an obscenity hurled at Kent’s name as the credits rolled as well as some, shall we say, ill-timed cheers. Ariston Anderson has details in the Hollywood Reporter, but beware, his story contains a few spoilers. For now, we’ll leave it to Glenn Kenny at to sum up just why this incident has hit so hard at the festival: “With one angrily shouted word, one awful person proved that the central thesis of the movie, that the world is run by men who hate women, remains absolutely correct.” Kent’s response during today’s press conference, as reported by Anderson, couldn’t be more noble: “I think it’s of absolute importance to react with compassion and love for ignorance,” she said. “There is no other option. I think the film speaks very clearly to that. We see other options played out, and they give no relief.”

On to the film itself. The year is 1825, the place is Tasmania, and a young Irish convict woman is determined take revenge on a British army lieutenant for the sadistic violence he’s visited on her and her family. The Nightingale is “a cauldron of blood, murders, and rapes so unflinching in vividness and brutality as to make it impossible to go through its 136 minutes without ever turning away from the screen, let alone to come out of it untouched,” writes Leonardo Goi at the Film Stage. But it’s also “one of the most memorable works in its genre—a parable that never turns violence into a spectacle, but is resolutely committed to expose the poisonous double prism of racism and sexism it feeds upon.” For Variety’s Guy Lodge, the film is a “both-barrels-blazing statement of intent from a filmmaker determined not to be limited or labeled by the popular meme-ification of her debut, with the muscular formal grasp to match her ambitious reach.”

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